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At home Cameron Stauch enjoying his moment under the sun
At home Cameron Stauch enjoying his moment under the sun

Canadian Chef Cameron Stauch has learnt how to speak India’s food language

Cameron Stauch arrives wearing shorts but with a red kalaya tied around his wrist. He had a pooja in his house yesterday. His four-year-old daughter felt it was perfectly complete. It had her two most favourite things, laddoos and flower petals.

Married to the Canadian First Secretary for Political and Economic Affairs, Ayesha Rekhi, Canadian born Cameron has been exploring India’s food culture and creating his own specialities. His forte is Indo-Canadian dishes like maple walnut kulfi or bhelpuri with puffed wild rice.

He might have a commerce degree from the respected McGill University, but he has also trained at the Canadian Stratford Chef School. He has worked at various restaurants in Canada. And is now a freelance chef creating special menus.

He started learning Hindi when he arrived in Delhi, four years ago. He was soon taking cookery classes for domestic cooks. He found that South Indian cooks would know South and North Indian food, whereas their North Indian compatriots would be ignorant of other cuisines.

He adds with a wry smile, “What I found odd was that no one would taste the food. They would cook it but wouldn’t taste it!” After some convincing, they would relent. But would sample the food on the palm of their hand and not with a spoon. Cameron would reason that since pasta is eaten with a fork, it should be tried with a fork. But they remained unconvinced and Cameron was soon smacking his own palm!

Food language

To teach them he had to learn “how to speak a food language”. He taught the domestic helps how to create foreign dishes by cross-referencing it with Indian ones. For example, baba ghanush, an Arabic eggplant dish, was taught as a variant of our homely baingan bharta. Cameron found the symbiosis especially interesting, “Here were employers investing in their domestic help, to give them better skills, and to get better food themselves!” He also ensured that all the ingredients were easily available at the INA, Defence Colony and the Khan markets.

Having been a chef in North America and Canada, Cameron is a staunch advocate of local products and organic food. He explains, “When I moved here I had to change the way I thought of certain ingredients.” He had found morel mushrooms in Canada, but soon discovered that they were indigenous to Kashmir as well. Finding that “to eat India you need two or three lifetimes,” Cameron is now researching for an Indian cookery book, to “provide a snapshot of local regional foods”. Cameron notices that in India, the area also determines the food. The book will be divided into restaurant food, family foods, religious food (like the Sikh langar) and street food. An admirer of street food specialist Rahul Verma, Cameron feels that those traditions need to be underscored.

While Cameron can understand why restaurants like American Diner exist, he doesn’t frequent them. He is, instead a big fan of Sarvana Bhawan and Oh! Calcutta and is hoping to discover Naivaidyam in Hauz Khas Village soon.

( nandini@thehindu.co.in) NANDINI NAIR

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